Bursting with good economic news, Washington County may seem like an unlikely place for hunger. Yet it exists all around us.

The county has fared quite well in recovering from the Great Recession. Job growth, for example, is running at a strong pace, with the county adding 8,800 jobs from the end of the first quarter of 2013 to the end of the fourth quarter of 2014. But in the midst of plenty, too many still lack the basics.

A significant and growing number of Washington County residents are being left behind economically with low-paying jobs or no jobs at all. In fact, the number of residents living in poverty continues to grow significantly faster than the overall population.

Thousands of our neighbors are unable to meet their basic needs for food, as well as shelter, heat, utilities, clothing, transportation, health care and child care. Particularly hard hit are women, seniors, children and minority groups.

Community Action is making a difference, offering hope, help and change through a host of programs, including housing and homeless services, energy assistance, emergency rent assistance, school readiness programs and food aid.

Recently we held two events to support the food pantry at our Hillsboro Family Shelter, part of a four-shelter network in Washington County helping residents achieve long-term self-reliance and stability. Families seeking shelter services can call Community Action, which will assess their needs and direct them to available resources.

The pantry, a compact space in the basement of the Hillsboro Family Shelter, has refrigerators and shelves for non-perishable food that is provided by the Oregon Food Bank, donated by people who stop by or collected at community events.

According to Patrick Rogers, who manages all of Community Action’s housing and homeless services, the pantry serves three to five households during its open hours of 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. every day. The pantry gives out boxes of food for the short term, enough to carry people over until they can get to a larger pantry or an Oregon Food Bank location for a longer-term supply.

At a June 24 event, generously sponsored by the Hillsboro Hops and Advantis Credit Union, a steady stream of Hops fans stopped at the Community Action tent at the stadium entrance to drop off food. Donors were entered into a raffle to win a Hops VIP experience, including a ceremonial first pitch.

Community Action held another event to raise money for the food pantry on June 29-30 at Orenco Station’s New Seasons Market in Hillsboro. The Market was kind enough to let Community Action set up an information table staffed by volunteers and matched contributions made by its customers at checkout.

Both of these events are part of an ongoing effort to cope with a changing food demand landscape. While the Hillsboro Family Shelter’s food pantry was once principally used in dire emergencies, it has morphed into a regular resource for many people struggling to cope with economic insecurity. Now many families rely on access to food pantries as a regular part of their monthly food budget, especially at the end of the month when other support runs out.

If Washington County is to be truly prosperous, we need to eliminate conditions of poverty and create opportunities for people and communities to thrive. All of us working together to eliminate hunger would be a good first step.

Ronald Sarazin is president of Olympic Performance, Inc., and chairperson of the Community Action Board, an organization that assists residents of Washington County.

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